§ Mr. Merchant
To ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will announce the award of licences for the 16th round of offshore licensing; and if he will make a statement. 
§ Mr. Page
After very careful consideration of applications for exploration licences in the west of Shetlands, we have been able to offer licences for each of the blocks applied for.
Our "fast tracking" of these applications means that over 1,700 sqk of 3D seismic surveys will now be shot this summer with even more to come in 1996. Companies have also committed themselves to drilling 12 wells in the next two years and a further 13 in three years time. This level of commitment demonstrates the keen interest in a very exciting area of the United Kingdom continental shelf.
The blocks attracted a high level of applications with one block receiving eight applications. The competition for some blocks has been intense and some very innovative ideas were presented with a number of very good applications for the same block. A total of 24 applications were received from 17 groups involving 32 companies.
When examining applications we were conscious of the need to protect the environment. Although most of the blocks are some distance from the coast, it is important to ensure that the risks of any oil spills reaching the coasts of the Shetlands and Orkneys are understood and steps taken to minimise the risks and prepare contingency plans. The companies which have been awarded licences have all shown a strong commitment to protecting the environment.
These awards—and the interest in the other blocks offered in the 16th round—shows the continuing high level of commitment by the international oil and gas companies to the UKCS. The opening up of new areas in the west of Shetlands basin as a result of this round will help maintain the UK's position as an oil and gas producer well into the next century.
I plan to announce the remainder of the 16th round awards—for blocks around the coast of Britain and to the north of Scotland—in the summer.